Neither Belief nor Ritual but Spirit and Love

I hold this most sacred duty – the gathering together of a number of people who shall so agree to live by the best they know, that they shall be free to live by the best they know. – DH Lawrence

Lawrence finishes his reading by saying that the “religion … must be practised.” For many people religion is based around a set of beliefs, or perhaps ritual. This chapel and movement humbly (or perhaps not so humbly) disagree, and recognises that forming a community need not be rooted in theological belief. We seek to be a church that aims towards ‘unity of spirit’ rather than ‘uniformity of opinion’ as the Rev’d JH Thom remarked.

Nor is our ritual universal: some have private practises that nourish them, others do so together (such as our shared communion); neither is compulsory nor exclusive. There are chapels within our fold that do not light a chalice, but I hope they may feel as welcomed as any others that do.

Which leads to the question: what then, is it, that binds us together? For as much as we speak about the necessity of individual conscience, autonomy, and treat the individual as sacred … we do gather together. And the word religion itself is rooted in being ‘bound up’ – whether to God or each other.

Today’s thoughts come from a point of sadness; having heard of people not associated with the chapel coming in and speaking poorly to our staff, placing unreasonable assumptions on our space, I can feel a certain loss of spiritual capital. I don’t want my energy diverted to these issues, but addressing them ultimately becomes the priority. For if we cannot make this a safe space, for our own staff let alone our community and for those vulnerable people outside of our fold … if this is the point where we are at, we have a ways to go!

On Sunday we have developed and begun reciting a covenant together; I’ve wondered whether it would be something that might be appreciated or beneficial for Wednesday as well, and would of course love to know your thoughts on the matter. The covenant was developed to help answer that. Just as we hold certain values – such as the inherent worth and dignity of all people – so too may we have basic assumptions about our behaviour. And the Sunday covenant includes the words “We speak with care and patience, We act with gentleness and compassion, We forgive each other and ourselves.” These are I hope points we may agree on, that the chapel can only become a safe space when we follow their direction, not only here but as far as possible.

I expect some measure of Lawrence’s letter to be taken as tongue-in-cheek: “Let us be good all together, instead of just in the privacy of our chambers.” How easy it is to be good when there is no one else around! How easy it is to give the benefit of the doubt when there is no one to give it to! And how hard it is to genuinely enter into a community by setting aside preconceptions and projections and knee-jerk reactions; to speak honestly rather than circuitously.

Creating a safe and enriching space is not easy, especially when we feel so much is at stake. But if we can remember to listen generously, speak with care, and proceed with a spirit of compassion and love, then we will help to build a community that can be a powerful force against the apathy and animosity that greet so many people on the streets.


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